Barclay F (2021) Representations Of Child 'Migrants' In Akli Tadjer's Le Porteur De Cartable. In: Brownlie S & Abouddahab R (eds.) Figures of the Migrant: The Roles of Literature and the Arts in Representing Migration. Routledge Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Literature, 140. London: Routledge, pp. 23-39. https://www.routledge.com/Figures-of-the-Migrant-The-Roles-of-Literature-and-the-Arts-in-Representing/Brownlie-Abouddahab/p/book/9781032008806
In recent decades, the figure of the migrant in France has become synonymous in media and certain public discourses with Arab economic immigration from North Africa. However, as numerous critics have noted, the widespread presence of Maghrebis in France predates decolonization, meaning that since the 1960s many of those deemed ‘migrants’ have in fact been French nationals born in the Hexagon. The question of migration is made more complex because the high profile associated with Arab Maghrebis has obscured other forms of migration from North Africa, including notably the pieds-noirs, almost a million of whom were repatriated from Algeria following independence in 1962. Because the pieds-noirs were white, Catholic and, crucially, held French citizenship, they have not historically been considered as migrants, despite the non-French origins of many, and the dispossessed circumstances in which they arrived in France. Moreover, the process of integration for both groups was complicated by the legacy of the Algerian War, which had complex and lasting effects on the relationships which continue to exist vertically between migrants and French state, and horizontally between the various North African communities present in the metropole.
This chapter examines textual representations of the issues surrounding migrant identity and experience, including trauma, alienation, racism, hospitality, belonging and integration, and exposes the discontinuities in understandings of what it means to be either ‘French’ or a ‘migrant’. It focuses on Akli Tadjer’s novel Le porteur de cartable (2002), set in 1962 as the Algerian war enters its closing stages. By placing the contrasting experiences of its Arab and pied-noir child protagonists in conversation, the novel challenges the established parameters of categories such as Home and the migrant, and highlights the racism, discrimination and injustice to which child ‘migrants’ of different origins are exposed on all sides as they attempt to negotiate their place in French society. Analysing the novel’s creative approach to hospitality, the chapter shows that a reconceptualization of the figure of the migrant allows us to prise open stubbornly intractable categories, with radical implications for our understanding of French society. It demonstrates that the postcolonial landscape demands a new politics of belonging and, with it, a reconceptualization of ‘Frenchness’ that would recognize and acknowledge the routes/roots which have brought individuals and groups to the Hexagon.